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Camillus de Lellis: the warrior with the healing touch

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The nursing profession can be traced back to 16th century Italy and a former soldier with a taste for brawling and alehouses.

camillus de lellis

camillus de lellis

Camillus de Lellis fell on hard times after his regiment was disbanded and he ended up working as a labourer in a monastery. His troublesome reputation brought him to the attention of the head friar who saw something in the quick tempered young man.

Camillus converted to Catholicism in 1575 and took interest in tending the sick as a result of his own injured leg.

When working as a caregiver and then as a hospital director in Rome, he noticed the lack of attention patients received and asked his superiors for permission to create a religious order dedicated to the care of the sick and needy.

One of the newly founded order’s vows was to “serve the sick, even with danger to one’s own life”.

Camillus suffered poor health throughout his life and often crawled to patients’ beds when he was unable to stand or walk.

The large red cross on the order’s cassocks is now more familiar as the symbol for the International Red Cross although it has long since lost its religious significance.

Camillus died in 1614 and was canonised more than a century later by the Pope. He is recognised as the patron saint of the sick, hospitals, nurses and physicians.

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